Old Drum

Commentary on Warrensburg, Johnson County and Missouri issues from a Libertarian perspective. View my earlier commentary at www.olddrum.net.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Hawthorne and sewer bonds - what's next?

I learned a few things in a casual conversation with a rural landowner today. It seems that the Hawthorne developers were interested in buying a small Baptist church bordering the commercial area of their development. They made a low-ball offer with a short 7-day fuse, keeping a unilateral option to withdraw the offer even if it were accepted; the church would have to vacate in 75 days if they sold. Now, some church members are wondering if the offer was really intended to be unacceptable to lay the groundwork for a future condemnation following the Supreme Court's Kelo decision.

How does the sewer bond fit in? Sewer lines will allow the City to expand its city limits. The landowner saw a plan to extend the limits well to the northeast; he'd heard that the City really wants to expand all the way to the Blackwater several miles east of MO-13. Now, a lot of the people out there are real, serious farmers who might prefer farming to development. They're worried about being stuck with something that happened a few years ago over in Clay County, where a landowner was assessed for the cost of sewer lines extended across his property. That landowner was forced to sell because that was the only way to pay the assessment.

I know a lot of us will be watching to see if our State Legislators will really restrict the misuse of eminent domain; I have my doubts. But they need to do more than that. They need to protect us from misuse of Tax Increment Financing, TDDs, tax credits, taking by assessment and other abuses of private property.

In Liberty

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Y.E.S., Aquila and tax credits

I suppose I should be pleased that Aquila has donated $7,000 to Youth Excited about Sports (Y.E.S.), since I have 300 shares of that benighted company. You see, that donation will reduce their state taxes by $3,500, thereby decreasing their loss for the year and inching them ever-so-minutely toward profitability. And, as I've said in a previous post, Y.E.S. appears on the surface to be a pretty worthwhile organization as a private entity offering an alternative to the tax-supported Warrensburg Parks & Rec programs. Then, why am I upset?

I'm upset with state laws that give away great gobs of our money (in this case, up to $650,000 over two grants) to private charities. Wouldn't it be better to let taxpayers keep the money and donate to the organizations they feel are best qualified? I'm not sure how well-qualified Y.E.S. is, since on a quick search of charitable databases they weren't to be found (and the official Missouri state website was down), but it's still a decision I should make myself rather than having some committee do it for me (& for every other taxpayer).

I'm upset with Aquila. The company is run by the Green brothers (nephews of DSJ owner Avis Tucker), who tried to make it a high-flying energy trader - like Enron. When Enron led the collapse of whole energy trading industry, it almost took Aquila with it. Since then, Aquila's been busily selling off its assets to cover its bad debts - and giving management substantial bonuses for doing so. And now they are asking the state to allow them to raise rates by about 30%.

It would be nice to see what Aquila's annual donation expenditures are, even locally, and what percent of them qualify for tax credits. It would be very nice to see what Y.E.S. has been spending directly on programs compared to its overhead. It would be nicest of all if we got rid of the favor-laden income tax system that allows governments to give away other peoples' money.

In Liberty

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

County Commission Report

Hah! You thought I'd forgotten about my duty to explore & expose. Not likely, just wasn't much to say. However, I just read the County Commission's brag session in the DSJ and think it's time to comment.

They bragged on the new Central Dispatch facility. The facility is a good start and will help emergency rspose, but it will never be fully effective until it also can locate cell phone callers.

They bragged, and justifiably so, on their purchase of the old Wyatt Oil bulk station to take over their own fueling. If they average $25,000/month in fuel costs, with their savings they paid off the land in just a few months. It's nice when the government can actually be more efficient when it brings a function in-house, but one does have to feel a bit sorry for the small businesses who will no longer sell gas to the county.

They bragged on their road paving program, moaned about the jail situation, and discussed the on-going investigation of the accounts of the previous Recorder of Deeds. Then they talked about problems occasioned by population growth, specifically rural residential sewage disposal. Eastern Commissioner Scott Sader was quoted as saying "There's a lot of areas where it [sewage] is running out into the roads." Uh, haven't we heard that before? Wasn't that the main reason given by supporters of the 1997 zoning proposal - the one we voted down by over 70%?

That's over 8 years, we had a specific problem cited with suggested solutions outside of zoning, and we still have a problem? A few years ago, we were told that there was a problem with the Prosecutor going after those identified as violating state sewage disposal laws (see Gadfly 123). On behalf of the late & lamented Warrensburg Free Press, I interviewed the current commissioners as candidates in 2002 and 2004, and they all talked about the problem (see Index to interviews). I wonder why nothing's been done yet? There are bound to be ways to cite the owners or residents of those polluting public property or their neighbors - without violating anyone's property rights.

In Liberty

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wal-Mart tax approved

In case you missed it, the Circuit Court approved the Wal-Mart tax (see previous posts) to benefit the Hawthorne development. Wisely, the local judges didn't hear the petition; it was passed on to one of the other judges, from Cass County. She didn't have much of a choice in the matter, since the TDD complied with all the requirements of the assinine and unjust law that allows it (can you tell I'm ticked?).

Here's what it means - if you go to Wal-Mart to get that hangover cure on January 1st, you'll pay an extra 1/2 cent tax on everything you buy. Comparing this to other sales taxes:
You'll pay more for Hawthorne than you pay for Warrensburg parks.
You'll pay the same for Hawthorne as you pay for law enforcement.
You'll pay the same for Hawthorne as you pay for county roads
You'll pay the same for Hawthorne as you pay for the county general fund.
You'll pay the same for Hawthorne as you pay for Warrensburg debt service on the fire stations and community center.
You'll pay 4 times as much for Hawthorne as you pay for wildlife conservation.
You'll pay 5 times as much for Hawthorne as you pay for State Parks and conservation.

You got to vote for all of the above taxes; you didn't get to vote on the Wal-Mart tax.

2006 is an elections year. Let's make the candidates state their position on stealing from taxpayers to benefit private business and let's make them tell us what they are going to do to prevent it!

In Liberty

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The national media abounds with debates over Iraq, global warming, abortion and the death penalty. I've always wondered:

Iraq: The Left vehemently oppose the war in Iraq, saying that, although we believed Saddam Hussein could be a threat to the U.S. and allied states, we should not have launched a pre-emptive attack unless the threat was much more certain. The Right says that, given Saddam's history, we couldn't take a chance that he would develop and use weapons of mass destruction against us.

Global warming: The Left (who oppose action in Iraq) want the U.S. to immediately reduce production of greenhouse gasses, even if it damages our economy. They say that we can't take a chance with the future of the planet by waiting until we have absolute proof. The Right (who backed pre-emptive war in Iraq) insist that we need not do anything about climate change until it is proven to be a true threat.

Abortion: The Right says that abortion is murder, the killing of totally innocent unborn humans. The Left says that the woman's right to abortion is paramount; what's best for a current human trumps whatever rights an unborn fetus may have.

Death Penalty: The Right favors the death penalty for the properly convicted guilty, saying their actions require retribution and permanent removal. The Left opposes the death penalty, saying society has no right to take someone's life.

In summary:
Left - Against preemptive actions in Iraq, for preemptive actions on the environment. For killing fetuses, against killing adult convicts.
Right - For preemptive war in Iraq, against preemptive actions on the environment. Against killing unborn babies, for killing adult human convicts.

Anyone else wondering why politics are so confusing?

In Liberty

Lakeridge Contretemps

Residents of the high-end Lakeridge subdivision have been taking up quite a bit of the City's time lately (see dB article. They're concerned that runoff from construction in two adjoining subdivisions is causing their lake to fill with silt, and they want it stopped. Their spokesperson is a former Warrensburg mayor, and most of the houses are far valued far beyond what a typical citizen can afford. They're being heard.

My populist streak wonders if the reason they're being heard and getting attention is because they are who they are, or is it because their backgrounds give them the knowledge and talents to make an effective statement to the local political people. My Libertarian core is analyzing whose property rights are more right, the subdivision residents or the buliders.

Generally, I hold that people have the right to do what they wish with their property, as long as it does not directly harm another. While building a low-income housing development next door to a ritzy subdivision may affect the property values of the ritzy neighbor, it does not give the people already there the right to stop the low-income development. However, if the construction causes them direct harm, such as affecting their water table, ruining their roads, etc., then their complaint is valid and they should be able to pursue a remedy.

This case? If the neighboring subdivision (which is not designed as low-income) can be reasonably proved to be causing or contributing to the demise of the lake, then the developer needs to set things straight. However, the subdivision residents shouldn't try to use their political pull to prevent the developer from developing his property, nor should they be exempt from responsibility for such of their own activities that contribute to the lake's problems.

Confusing? Yep. Applying abstract principles to the real world is often like that.

In Liberty

Saturday, December 10, 2005

City Election and issues

It's almost time for candidates to file for the single Warrensburg City Council seat open this year. Debbie Arwood has already announced she plans to run fo reelection. I hope she has some articulate opposition who will bring up these issues:

1. Tax giveaways for business. I'd like to see a candidate specifically make an issue of the Hawthorne Transportation Development District (TDD), aka the "Wal-Mart tax." The candidate also needs to address the tax breaks granted through Neighborhood Improvement Districts (NID) and any other incentives that diverts property tax or school tax from the intended recipients.

2. Economic Development. I'd like to see what candidates have to say on the various organizations that purport to work for economic development. These include the former Warrensburg Area Economic Development Corporation (just renamed Johnson County EDC - wonder what Holden & Knob think of that), the Warrensburg Industrial Development Corporation, the tourism tax given to the Chamber, and whatever other ones are hiding out there.

3. Nanny Government. Various groups are trying to impose mandatory curbside recycling and smoking bans. I want to see a candidate who will stand up for the free market system on such issues as these.

4. Private Property. I want to see an absolute pledge to not even consider the taking of private property for other than true government use.

5. Transportation. Warrensburg was trying to get the state to agree to a 4-lane MO-13 bypass from US-50 to DD. At least that was cut back to a single lane bypass, since it won't be very attractive to people until it connects directly into MO-13 south. I want to see a realistic approach to transportation issues.

6. Open Government. I'd like to see a candidate openly committed to open government. Nobody knows what goes on in Council "study sessions" because the media doesn't attend them. It makes it too easy to skirt the intent of the Sunshine Law while technically complying with it. I'd also like the city to take the initiaitve to electronically announce ALL meetings (by entities they've created) subject to the law, such as the Tourism Advisory Board of the Chamber and various economic development and financing groups. If the City has created or recognized the organization by ordinance, the City should announce the meetings.

I'm sure there's more, but here's agood start for some ambitious campaigner.

In Liberty

Friday, December 02, 2005

Public Facilities Authority - What the heck is it and why should we care?

The dB carried an article about Warrensburg's Public Facilities Authority (PFA); the DSJ hasn't, as yet. According to the article, "The PFA is a not-for-profit corporation owned by the city to lease public property back to the City of Warrensburg." My reaction - Huh? The City owns the property & the corporation, yet wants to lease back property it already owns from a corporation it also owns? Sounds like ENRON, to me.

Well, first I did some research in the Missouri Revised Statutes. I couldn't find the stautory authorization for a PFA, but I presume there's something hidden there somewhere; the City wouldn't up and do anything that wasn't somehow legal, however shady it may be. And, from reading between the lines, I think this is shady.

It appears that the purpose of the PFA is to allow governmental bodies to get work done that they don't have the money for. They either mortgage the building/facility (I understand that City Hall is mortgaged right now to support some previous work) or issue something called a Certificate of Participation. I can't find anything about that in the Missouri Revised Statutes, either.

What's the danger? The system allows one building to be used to guaranty a loan on another one. The loan escapes the normal bonding requirements - i.e., a public vote. I can't tell if it applies to the bonding limits established by the state constitution (because I can't find anything about it in the statutes).

Let's take this a step further - the article states that the PFA could be used by the school board. Could it also be used to mortgage the 1896 Courthouse and the county barn to build a new jail (the one that was voted down twice)? I'd sure like to see more Sunshine on our own little ENRON.

In Liberty